News Story

155th Emancipation Festival Welcomes Freedmen’s Bureau Records Display

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints participated in the annual Emancipation Festival celebrations in Owen Sound, Ontario, by presenting a Freedmen’s Bureau Records display.

Every August 1 weekend since 1862, descendants of those blacks who came to Canada seeking freedom via the Underground Railroad have been gathering in Owen Sound — the most northerly retreat of the Underground Railroad — to celebrate the journey of their ancestors. An estimated 400 people attended this year’s festival picnic held on August 5, 2017.

Blaine Courtney, the Emancipation Festival chairperson, said, “Today, as part of our 155th anniversary celebration, the Owen Sound Emancipation Festival is pleased to welcome the representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their Freedmen’s Bureau information display. The opportunity to visit the table to discover the importance of the project and its impact as a tool to learn more about our black history was welcomed by many. We are very appreciative of the Church’s participation.”

The Freedmen’s Bureau Records display was one of several displays at the festival focusing on family, history and culture. Display visitors were introduced to, a newly indexed database of historic Freedmen’s Bureau Records. The searchable database contains genealogical information of freed African Americans after the Civil War.

The Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) partnered in the Freedmen’s Bureau Project, encouraging local Canadian volunteers to help complete the indexing goal. Paulette Kelly, the OBHS second vice president, and her friend Carol Barclay both recalled attending the Canadian Black History Summit in 2016, which was co-hosted by FamilySearch and OBHS and was where the Freedmen’s Bureau Project was introduced in Canada.

“I was so excited to learn about the project,” Barclay said, “that I signed up to be an indexing volunteer!”

“What a thrill for us,” said Terri Jackson, an Emancipation Festival organizing committee member, “as a dream came to realization to share the Freedmen’s Bureau Records. History does not belong to us alone — it belongs to everyone.”

“It was such a wonderful day!” says Diane Downie, the Barrie Ontario Stake public affairs director. “There was such a warm spirit of friendship at the festival, and I enjoyed learning more about black history in this area. I also enjoyed sharing with many people … the Freedmen’s Bureau [Records], which makes available the names of nearly 1.8 million men, women and children that could be searched online to find their African American ancestors. This will help them build their family trees and connect with their heritage.”

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke at a 2015 news conference during the initial Freedmen’s Bureau Project call to action, saying, “One of our key beliefs is that our families can be linked forever and that knowing the sacrifices, the joys, and the paths our ancestors trod helps us to know who we are and what we can accomplish” (“FamilySearch Announces Project to Index 4 Million Records of Freed Slaves,” June 2015).

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